State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, in a 2017 file photo. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Georgia could model a larger Medicaid program after Indiana’s

It was only a single paragraph, but the new chairman of the state Senate Health Committee late Friday dropped a pretty big hint about what he wants to see out of Georgia’s hunt for more Medicaid dollars.

Perhaps more important in political terms, state Sen. Ben Watson of Savannah gave a forthright description of a situation that has been rarely voiced publicly by a Georgia Republicans in a position to change it.

“We … must not overlook the fact that more than 500,000 Georgians are without insurance and we will strongly consider Medicaid waivers,” he wrote in the sixth paragraph of a Savannah Morning News column.

Watson wants the waiver -- Republicans dare not call it “expansion” -- modeled after a program adopted by Indiana when Mike Pence was governor. It includes “health savings accounts and work requirements.” 

“I believe it’s more effective to implement models more aligned with private insurance, rather than continue using a failed system,” he wrote. “My employer offers health savings accounts to its employees, and I’ve seen first-hand the effectiveness of this option.”

This is the most detail we’ve seen about the GOP shift in attitude since Gov. Brian Kemp used his State of the State address to float the idea earlier this month.

In that speech, Kemp said he’d devote $1 million to developing a waiver proposal, but offered few other details. He and other Georgia Republicans have long opposed full-on expansion. 

The Indiana waiver that Watson referenced was used to add hundreds of thousands of people to the Medicaid rolls - and was often cited by Democrat Stacey Abrams as an example of how Republicans support a version of Medicaid expansion. 

Indiana’s program requires adult enrollees to work an average of 20 hours a month, and it doesn’t apply to people who are over 60 and offers a list of exemptions,which include job training, volunteering or caring for a child or disabled parent.

Georgia is one of only 14 states that has not expanded the Medicaid program, and Democrats insist it’s the only option. A fiscal note released last week shows the net cost of expansion is about $200 million a year

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Late Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the fight over a border wall isn’t over. The lede:

President Trump said Sunday he doesn’t believe congressional negotiators will strike a deal over border-wall funding that he could accept and vowed that he would build a wall anyway, using emergency powers if need be.

That might frustrate opponents of Trump’s approach to border security, But WSB Radio’s Erick Erickson had an op-ed in Friday’s USA Today, which posited that the declaration of emergency might be that off-ramp Trump needs to escape his self-created quagmire. The paragraph that counts:

Some of the president’s advisers believe [a declaration of national emergency] is a non-justiciable issue, meaning the federal courts will not be able to interfere with such action. It seems more likely another federal judge would issue an injunction to any action securing the border, tying this up in litigation for a long time. In other words, an emergency declaration would be creatively surrendering while giving the president the opportunity to blame judges.

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Former Atlanta attorney and FBI Director Chris Wray typically ducks the spotlight, which is what makes his comments hours before President Donald Trump's shutdown-ending announcement Friday all the more striking. 

Wray acknowledged the "anxiety and emotional strain" of the shutdown on the agency's unpaid workforce in a video message to FBI employees. "It takes a lot to get me angry, but I’m about as angry as I’ve been in a long, long time," Wray said. You can watch it in full here.

Many wonder if Wray's more public stance helped push Trump toward ending the shutdown, but we would also note something that many have overlooked.

Wray went into great detail about his agency’s effort -- which ultimately failed -- to seek a backdoor path that would have allowed many FBI employees a one-time paycheck during the 35-day shutdown.

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We received good news on Friday about former Gov. Nathan Deal, who was hobbled by a bad back for the last few years. His top aide, Chris Riley, said surgeons removed a cyst and inserted two screws in his back as part of the procedure. He said the governor is recovering well. 

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The Friday edition of the Marietta Daily Journal carried legal notices that announce the pending introduction of local legislation to make nonpartisan the Cobb County positions of probate judge and chief judge of magistrate court. Who will be carrying the legislation isn’t clear.

Superior and state court judgeships are already nonpartisan everywhere in Georgia. How lower benches are filled vary from county to county. However, making that shift from partisan to nonpartisan is the sort of thing that comes up when a county is in transition, and the brand of the party in power -- in this case Republican -- becomes less and less valuable in a general election.

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A domino effect is underway in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. After state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, declared he would run for Sixth District congressional seat, now held by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, several Republicans began circling Beach’s seat, which stretches across north Fulton and Cherokee counties. 

State Rep. Michael Caldwell, R-Woodstock, announced on Twitter on Friday that he would compete for Beach’s seat. And James Touchton, a former Council for Quality Growth executive who is now a Stockbridge official, is publicly mulling a bid. 

Democrats also see the seat as competitive, though Beach won it with 70 percent of the vote in November over a little-known opponent. 

Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan of Atlanta took to social media shortly after Beach’s announcement to mount a search for a candidate.

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Speaking of Brandon Beach, U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath has begun fundraising off his entry into the 2020 race. 

The Marietta Democrat said Beach has a "record in Atlanta that is wrong for #GA06" in a series of tweets that linked to a fundraising page. She cited his work in the General Assembly on legislation expanding the list of public places where concealed weaponry can be carried, and on women's health care access.

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Call it the metro Atlanta millennial board: We told you all about Saturday’s vote at the Democratic Party of Georgia’s state convention that made Nikema Williams of Atlanta the first black woman to lead the organization. 

She’s joined by a cadre of other young officials who will round out the party’s more progressive side. Just about all of them are in their 20s or 30s and just about all of them are from metro Atlanta. 

The new vice-chair is Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, known for his push to decriminalize marijuana offenses and embrace refugees. 

State Rep. Bee Nguyen of Atlanta, who succeeded Stacey Abrams in the House, was voted vice-chair of constituency groups. 

Adrienne White, a stalwart of the progressive New Leaders Council, was voted vice-chair of recruitment. 

Jason Esteves, the chair of the Atlanta Public Schools board, is now the treasurer. Justin Holsomback was elected secretary and Sarah Todd was made secretary. 

Here’s the list of Democratic congressional chairs:

First: Lisa Ring

Second: Bobby Fuse

Third: Jimmy Glenn

Fourth: Ryan Barrett

Fifth: TJ Copeland

Sixth: Ben Meyers

Seventh: Cheryl Williams

Eighth: Fenika Miller

Ninth: Josh McCall

10th: Norman Garrett

11th: Sheree Giardino

12th: Chris Johnson

13th: Myesha Good

14th: Lukis Newborn

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